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Jean-François Colson wrote:
 So my question was: "Do some dialects make a slight
> phoneTic distinction between the /k/ of cat and the /k/ of key?"

Quick answer w.r.t. those two words: no, or at best a slight difference.
The position of the tongue naturally anticipates the location of a following
vowel, so there are allophonic differences between /k/ before front vowels
and /k/ before back vowels, but that apparently was not what the ITA was
trying to say.

The /k/s in "cot, cool, caught etc." are true velars; the /k/s in "key,
Kate, kelp etc" are indeed fronted to palato-velar or palatal. The same is
true, I suspect, in your own French (try "quatre, coup" vs. "qui, quelle")
and <sweeping generalization> probably in every human language.

Fronting of velars before front V is also seen in the German ach-laut vs.
ich-laut; both sounds presumably represent the same _phoneme_ /x/ though
they are phonetically quite distinct.

(The vowel of "cat" is front, but also low; and there is less front/back
difference in the low vowels; still "cat" has a slightly fronted /k/.)

A couple things were unclear to me in the ITA. (1) Is the "backward z" (for
"s" = [z]) used only mophophonemically (as the ex. "birdz" implies), or
would it also be used in "rose"? (2) Given its use of c=k along with k=k,
why not also distinguish c=s, which is probably a greater problem to
beginners?